The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

Missing, presumed dead…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

The Sussex Downs MurderBrothers John and William Rothers share the family home and lime manufacturing business at Chalklands Farm in Sussex. William’s wife also lives there, which is unfortunate, or convenient, depending on your viewpoint, since she seems to be at least as close to John as she is to her husband. Then John decides to go on a short driving holiday, but he doesn’t get far – his car is found abandoned a few miles from home and there are signs of violence. No sign of John though, alive or dead. Inspector Meredith has recently been transferred to the area and is put in charge of the case. First he’ll have to determine if John has been kidnapped or murdered before he can hope to discover whodunit…

I’ve loved a couple of John Bude’s books and been pretty unimpressed by a couple more, so wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. And it fell in the middle for me – reasonably enjoyable but not nearly as entertaining as he can be. I’m coming to the conclusion it’s the Inspector Meredith books that don’t work too well for me. Not that I don’t like the Inspector – as a character he’s fine and in this one there’s some entertaining stuff between him and his teenage son which gives him a more rounded feel than in some of the other books. It’s more the investigative technique that puts me off, very painstaking and slow, with lots of examining and re-examining clues as each fresh piece of information comes to light. I’m aware I’ve said similar things about a few of the Golden Age police procedurals, especially the Inspector French novels of Freeman Wills Crofts, so I was interested to learn from Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books that Meredith is indeed modelled on French. However Edwards says that Meredith “possesses a sharper sense of humour” and an “innate humanity”, with both of which I agree. This kind of detailed procedural is clearly a specific style of mystery story popular at the time, and Bude certainly does it better than most.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 35
Subject Heading: Serpents in Eden
Publication Year: 1936

He’s also very good at settings and here he brings the area of the Sussex Downs to life, with the sparsely populated rural district playing a major role in the solving of the mystery. First published in 1936, there was still little enough traffic on the roads for people to notice and recognise passing vehicles, and even remember them some days later. Local gossip plays its part too, with there being few enough people around for everyone to have a fair idea of what everyone else might be up to, or at least to think they do.

The solution seems a bit obvious from fairly early on, unfortunately, but the meat of the story is really in how Meredith goes about his investigation. As he struggles to find proof of a murder having been done much less to prove who may have done it, we see his frustration and the pressure he is put under by his superiors. But Meredith is a patient man, willing to admit when a theory isn’t working out and to go back to the beginning to formulate a new one.

Overall, then, enjoyable enough to while away a few hours but not a top rank mystery novel, which has been pretty much my reaction to all of the Inspector Meredith novels I’ve read so far. I think in future I’ll try to stick to Bude’s standalones where, in my limited experience of him, he seems to show much more inventiveness and humour, and achieves a better pace.

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46 thoughts on “The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

    • For some reason I missed The Cornish Coast Murder – I think it was one of the earliest ones before I got hooked. But I find him very variable – I’ve loved some of his books and been a bit disappointed in others.

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  1. Your review really hits on a tricky balance, FictionFan. On the one hand, police procedurals mean, well, procedures. So they need (at least for me) to include the getting and weighing of evidence, reviewing clues, and so on. On the other hand, as you say, there’s definitely such a thing as too much of that sort of detail. It’s not an easy balance to achieve. I do agree, though, that Bude does a good setting, both physically and culturally.

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    • Yes, it’s a difficult balancing act and I’m, as usual, completely fickle about it – sometimes complaining when it’s too realistic and then complaining it’s too unrealistic! An author’s nightmare, that’s me. 😉 But I do think this particular style takes realism a bit too far and it can make it a bit plodding. However, I’ve loved some of his books, so either he’s variable or I am… 😀

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  2. I love the cover, but I’m not as sure about the story. Although, because it was published in the 1930s, it might make it more interesting. I will look for it at the library, if, somehow, I will have time to read it. 🙂

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    • Nearly all of these British Library re-issues are worth reading, even if they’re not all classics material. I find them a great way to relax over the weekend… 😀

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  3. I’ve read a number of books lately that seem to fall into that middling category. I think I’ll pass on this one since I already have a back log of Golden Age Crime waiting in my Kindle.

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    • I suspect it’s partly me – I’ve definitely noticed I’m giving more books four stars than usual, and fewer are getting the full five. Probably now that I’ve read more of the Golden Age stuff I’m getting more critical of it…

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    • Hmm, they’re very different in style so hard to compare. I used to love PD James back in the day but never thought they were very realistic – her poet detective and his partner “Foxkin” never seemed like possible real policemen to me. But on the other hand she’s a more stylish writer. These Budes are more realistic but not as literary, if that makes sense.

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  4. Well, I don’t suppose I’ll be rushing out to acquire this one, FF, but I’m glad it kept you entertained. Since I’m not familiar with this sleuth, I’d probably benefit best by starting at the beginning anyway, huh?

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    • I don’t think order ever really matters with these Golden Age books – they always read like standalones and generally speaking the detective’s personal life doesn’t change from book to book. That’s part of their charm – you can read one or two without feeling like you need to read the whole series! 😀

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  5. I have a feeling the focus on minute detail and repeatedly going over the same evidence is a lot like real life policing, quite methodical and unexciting much of the time, which is great for realism of course, but not always especially inspiring for drama.

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    • Yes, I suspect you’re right – they do feel more realistic than the brilliant inductive amateur ‘tecs, but sometimes all that realism just makes them a bit dull. I’ve preferred his standalones which don’t seem to have the police procedural aspect so much.

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  6. I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages and am planning to read it soon, but I won’t expect too much from it, having read your review. On the other hand, it will be my first John Bude book, so I won’t have anything to compare it with. Hopefully I’ll still enjoy it!

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    • I certainly wouldn’t want to put you off it, Helen – this very detailed style of procedural just isn’t my favourite, but he’s very good at it. I’ve enjoyed his standalones better, though, because they tend not to be so procedural.

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  7. I don’t think, I am going to attempt this one. It seems that I’ve become more critical of crime fiction and not many crime authors seem to appeal to me these days, which is a shame. I used to read a lot more crime fiction than I currently do. On the positive side, I’ve discovered that other kinds of books may be enjoyable as well (sometimes…). 😉

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  8. Well this was interesting. i recognised the title of the book and had a strong idea that I’ve read the book. But the synopsis didn’t ring any bells with me at all. So I checked out whether I had reviewed it – and Id did but only briefly. Even after reading your comments and mine I still dont remember the book so clearly it didn’t leave much of an impression……
    I have a vague idea there was a lot of detail about a railway or a constructions site….

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    • They do all tend to merge into one after a while, don’t they? Especially the ones that don’t make a particular impression at the time. Ha! I don’t remember there being a railway or construction site in this one, but then it’s a good two or three months since I read it, so who knows? It mostly featured car journeys and how long it would take to get from point A to point B as far as I remember – and lime kilns! 🙂

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    • Yes, I felt the teenage son was a big help – actually gave him a bit of personality to know he had a home life! These very procedural ones just don’t thrill me, even if they probably are more true to life.

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    • I can see how that would work, although I take the opposite approach – when I’m stressed I want something fast-paced so my attention doesn’t get a chance to wander! And poor Inspector Meredith may be many things, but fast-paced isn’t one of them! 😉

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    • I do find his Meredith books all seem to merge into one in my memory, but his stand-alones seem to be much more memorable, probably because they don’t rely so much on procedural stuff. He’s not my favourite BL author, but he’s always enjoyable enough to make the few hours of reading worthwhile…

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    • I know loads of people enjoy Bude much more than I do. He’s very good at what he does, it’s just that I’m not too enthusiastic about these very procedural mystery novels. One day I must try the audiobook versions of these – maybe some of the early books that I missed before I started getting review copies…

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  9. I really enjoyed The Cornish Coast Murder but haven’t really warmed up to the other Budes I’ve tried. I think it’s possible that even that one was strongly influenced by my environment when I was reading it – it opens with a huge thunderstorm that is pretty central to the whole book and very well-evoked, and I read it in a single sitting during a huge thunderstorm. I don’t know whether I would have enjoyed it if the weather outside hadn’t so perfectly matched the weather in the book.

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    • Ha, I can see how that would add to the atmosphere – it’s like me only reading horror during autumn and winter when the evenings are dark! I must read The Cornish Coast Murder sometime – a few people have mentioned it favourably.

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  10. The idea of returning to clues in any mystery novel seems a bit foreign to me-perhaps it’s done more in classic mysteries than contemporary ones? I’m just struggling to remember reading any kind of book in recently that goes over a clue a second time, it’s just not ringing a bell!

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    • I think it probably happens in police procedurals most. I’m struggling to think of an actual contemporary example too, but for instance, maybe a man is seen running from a crime scene, and at first he’s a suspect, but then something happens that makes the detective think there might have been another reason for him being there, so that changes everything.

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